Tummy Time For Brain Health

Posted on in Brain Health, Kid's Health by Dr. Graham Norton

tummy time

What does tummy time have to do with the brain?

Full disclosure: This post is a bit heavy on the terminology…. but so worth your time investment to better understand your health! I love science and research and being able to teach people more about their body and their health so they can live a healthier, happier life.

So here it goes… 

There is a very special curve in your neck, sometimes referred to as the arc of life. It is your cervical lordosis. (A strange word if you don’t have an anatomy background.) The cervical lordosis is the natural curvature that you develop in your neck when you are just a little one and something you are SUPPOSED to have for the rest of your life.

Your spine has 3 main curves if you look at it from the side: a curve in the neck, middle back, and lower back. Interestingly, you are born with none of them. Your spine is shaped more like the letter C at birth.

You may have heard of the frontal lobes in the brain… they are the “newest” part of the human brain and are the executive centres. They are involved in higher order thinking, reasoning, and complex movement patterns. In essence, they are what makes you “human.”

One of the most important functions of the frontal lobes is to inhibit the older and more primitive parts of the brain. The parts that were heavily involved in things like the stress response and reactive decision making (like “oh no there’s a tiger…run!”).

A baby’s brain

When we look at a newborn baby they are born without that inhibition. Their bodies are in fetal flexion, they have high heart rates, and high respiratory rates. In other words, their frontal lobes are not developed enough to inhibit the more primitive parts of the brain.

What develops the frontal lobes?

One of the biggest drivers of frontal lobe development (and the whole brain in general) is MOVEMENT. This is why you hear us talk about the importance of tummy time, babywearing, and play.

Tummy time: 

When a baby is on their belly, they engage gravity, extend the head up and pan from side to side to see their environment. This panning from side to side sends massive input to the frontal lobes, and increases the tone of the muscles that create the curve in the neck.

Baby wearing: 

When a child is worn in a carrier (Boba, Moby, Ergo, Tula) and Mom or Dad is buzzing around, the bouncing, swaying, and spinning motions engage the inner ear. This furthers the neurological output and therefore tone of the little extensor muscles that create the curve in the neck.

It is no mystery that as the frontal lobes develop, so does baby’s head control and their cervical curve. So drops the heart rate, respiratory rate, and flexed position of the body into the more upright extended position that we associate with being a human.

That part was a lot, I know. Here is the takeaway:

Frontal Lobes = Super Important 

They are heavily involved in good health and good posture. Movement of the spine and whole body develop the frontal lobes and the important curvatures in your spine. Therefore, a good curve in the neck is associated with healthy frontal lobes. That = a big deal.

Now, imagine your baby’s spine has problems in it (from birth, or stress in utero, tumbles and falls) impeding range of motion and ability to generate good head control?

This is not just a spinal problem. This will affect neurological development and health. (This is why we recommend all children get checked as early as possible to ensure the NeuroSpinal System is healthy).

So here is the not so lovely news. If we took X-rays of your spine, many of you would have a loss of the healthy curve in your neck. Yes, this is associated with more pain and accelerated degeneration among other things.

Here is the conclusion from a study published in a prestigious peer-reviewd journal, JMPT:

“We found a statistically significant association between cervical pain and lordosis < 20 degrees and a “clinically normal” range for cervical lordosis of 31 degrees to 40 degrees. Maintenance of a lordosis in the range of 31 degrees to 40 degrees could be a clinical goal for chiropractic treatment.”

BUT, more important is understanding why the curvature has been lost. In order to have insufficient tone of the little muscles that help create the curve, the frontal lobes have to be functioning less that optimally.

Structural problems are almost always neurological problems first.

In other words, that lack of healthy curvature, the forward head translation you have, and maybe even the degeneration in your lower neck is first a problem in the brain/nerve system.

The relationship between your spine and nervous system is so deep, complex, and fascinating. They are inextricably linked. This is also the beauty of Chiropractic and probably the aspect that is least understood in the general population. Neurology touches all aspects of biological function and health. 

If we can enhance the spine, we can enhance neurology. When we enhance neurology, we enhance health. A healthier body heals better, works better, and moves toward a more normal state. And luckily for us, this normal state is health.

Dr. Graham Norton
Hi! I'm Dr. Graham and I am passionate about delivering the most comprehensive and results driven spine care available. I love working with people who want to make a real and lasting difference in their health. I love travelling locally, outdoor activities like road biking and skate skiing, good coffee, and my family (Dr. Marie, and our two wonderful daughters Zoey & Eloise).